On a transparent August morning on the outskirts of Frankfurt, Germany, Adam Pierson is on his way to work. A taste of new beginnings is on his tongue that he remembers from leaving many cities and that he knows to be an illusion in this instance. He is not leaving, and he has no desire at all to leave this life so soon. Adam Pierson is much too young yet -- younger than he looks; born not of woman but of a carefully constructed identity about fifteen years ago in a moldy Paris basement. He has a painstakingly forged passport, a childhood that never was, well-hidden, inexhaustible funds, a mostly likeable, mostly inconspicuous manner spiked with a few plausible flaws, and a disarming smile.
The morning sun fills the sky with gold, sharpening the edges of leaves and glinting on the retreating skyline. Proudly joking the city calls itself 'Mainhattan', after the river Main that runs through it. Adam Pierson does not think the resemblance with that other financial metropolis so striking. Unlike New York, Frankfurt is only impressive from a distance. This suits him perfectly.
As the train describes a long curve the city is lost from view. There are only green and yellow fields now, a stretch of suburb disappearing in a gentle fold of land. High-rise apartment buildings in shades of pastel sit isolated in the middle distance like building blocks lost by a baby giant.
Like most of Europe, Germany is tamed: parcellated and marked with ubiquitous signs of human habitation -- roads and railroads, power stations, farms, and villages blending into suburbs blending into industrial areas blending into cities. There are no horizons free of overhead power lines, no skies without the trails of aeroplanes.
Adam Pierson, who is a student of history -- as well as of human nature -- can fill the well-ordered meadows and fields with primordial forests in his imagination, although he has never seen the country in a pristine state. Yet the landscape's artificiality does not make him uncomfortable, as it might a more romantically-minded soul. He is rather fond of civilization, although he is perhaps more aware of its price than some.
He gets off the train at the next stop. The platform is a little off the centre of a conglomeration of houses that were once a village and are now something of a suburb to the small neighbouring town. A five minute walk among the monuments of modest 1950s prosperity, past a bakery that seems to be a relic from that very era and where he buys some rolls, takes him to the edge of the small knot of winding streets. There, he crosses a busy road, then walks across a patch of high grass, and reaches the road that will take him to his working place. The three yellow freight containers, used as office and storage rooms, greet him from afar across the fields.
The small group of students, preparing for work in the cramped improvised office, look up at the rather too bright greeting.
"You look far too happy this morning. You run over something small and fluffy on the way here?" a girl leaning on the defunct radiator asks.
Adam Pierson tilts his head, mock-insulted. "Why, it's a wonderful morning! Sun's shining, birds are singing, not even a hint of a cloud..." He is all wide-eyed enthusiasm. "Come on, doesn't it make you want to --"
"It makes me want to sit in the shade and do nothing very much," says the girl. She bends down to tie her sensible workman's boots.
"Birdsong? You did notice we're right beside a six lane highway here, did you?" comes a voice from behind Adam Pierson's back. "And where's your car?"
He turns and steps aside to let Sandra enter the already overcrowded room. She is as good an embodiment of the idea of a sprite as he has ever run across, a little short-haired blonde with a genially wicked sense of humour.
"It died yesterday," he confesses mournfully. "I took the train and walked."
"You walked? All the way?" Another student looks up from applying sunscreen to his legs, amazed.
"Well, yes, all the way from the station. It's not like I had to cross the Sahara or anything."
"Jeez, Adam, you should have called us! We would have picked you up!" Sandra says.
"I have no doubt about that, but I rather like to walk. You know, wanderlust," he grins, allowing an English accent to flavour his flawless German.
He puts down his backpack and removes a bottle of water and a crinkled sunhat from it. He does not change into his work clothes, having already put on a faded, threadbare pair of blue jeans and sturdy old shoes at home. For reasons of his own - made of steel and hidden somewhat inconveniently underneath his clothes - he cannot change in a public place.
Sunhat and bottle in one hand, he leaves for the tools container to grab a spade and a shovel, then makes his way across the field to the trenches. Just another student earning a few deutschmarks on his holidays.
Early: the sun still low, lending to the air a mild warmth that does not yet hinder the workers. Habituation lets the drone of the highway recede into the background. The trench, twenty by forty metres, lies half-shadowed by the mounds of excavated earth that surround it, and in the shadows it still gets positively chilly. Later in the day the heat will increase to become sweltering and oppressive in the early afternoon, and the students will remember the cool shadows with longing. Adam Pierson is driving his spade into earth softened by the night's dew. The work pleases him. He is not used to physical labour but adapts easily, and finds the simple, down to earth processes of digging, shovelling, and checking the broken soil for sherds of seven thousand year old pottery quietly satisfying. His mind settles in a state of serenity while his muscles tense and relax in an ancient rhythm.
Breakfast, 10 a.m.: the students convene at the containers, sitting down in their shadows on trampled straw or on chairs taken from inside. When they return to the trenches they will find the ground dried and hardened by sun, and the work will get draining. Munching on his dry rolls, Adam Pierson is getting into a discussion about an obscure little soccer club he has never heard of with Sandra's fiercely fanatical boyfriend. The club has a long history of apparently deserved defeats, but Sandra's boyfriend is a great one for lost causes. Another student joins in, and Adam Pierson becomes intrigued by their irony-tempered passion. He has never been to a soccer game.
Noon: with the soil hard as concrete, spades are no use anymore. In some places the students tackle the ground with pick-axes. Adam Pierson is lugging ten-liter watering cans from the water tank to the trenches. There, the water is used to soften the uppermost layer of earth. In silly sunhats, mostly bought at a local discounter, the soon-to-be-archaeologists, including Adam Pierson, look like a bunch of displaced tourists in search of a beach to build a sand-castle on.
Later he is kneeling, carefully digging with a trowel. The sherds are not easy to notice, and more often than not fall apart when he tries to separate them from the earth that has covered them since the day a Neolithic housewife threw them away. A gentle wind carries shreds of a conversation to him that takes place somewhere behind his back -- Sandra and some other girl discussing the merits of various incarnations of Star Trek while they are digging. A waft of tar is blown across the trench from the relentlessly approaching construction site that is the reason for the hurried excavation.
Suddenly, the sound of the trowel scraping on something. He has found a sherd, a big one, and the soil falls away to reveal it like a miracle, whole and solid, and for a moment he just sits there, the perfect sherd cradled in a dirty hand.
A little later he is cleaning the profile. This earth hasn't been touched by human hands for seven thousand years, he thinks, feeling young.
Then he thinks about soccer.
In the early afternoon, leaning on his spade, Adam Pierson is resting for a moment, when suddenly his body becomes alert to danger. He tenses, then slowly sinks into a crouch in the hole he has been working in, pretending to dig with the trowel while surreptitiously scanning the perimeter for the source of the disturbance. A car, a big BMW, has pulled up beside the containers. A man gets out, takes a long black coat from the co-driver's seat and puts it on. For a moment he stands as if undecided, looking at the working students with what seems like intense interest. Adam Pierson crouches lower, scratching at the ground with his trowel. When he looks back up, the stranger is heading in his direction. Adam Pierson eyes the bank of the highway, calculating his chances of crossing six lanes of relentless traffic unscathed, but something in the way the stranger moves, the way he holds his head, gives him pause. A glance around tells him none of the students is watching him, and his hand sneaks towards something hidden. The stranger is approaching unhurriedly. Closer, closer. . .
"Des kann doch net wahr sein!?" The man shouts his surprise in perfect Hessian-flavoured German, a deep rumbling laugh mixing with the words, and quickens his steps. "Old friend! What a surprise!" He stops beside the hole Adam Pierson is still crouching in.
"Flavius! It's. . . an unexpected pleasure," the oldest man in the world says, squinting up against the sun, taking his hand slowly away from his weapon. He rises and climbs out of the hole, brushing dirt off his jeans. Flavius claps him on the shoulder, then laughs and embraces him. Adam Pierson laughs, too, grinning as the younger man's keen glance takes him in head to toe.
"So, what was that thing you were about to surprise me with?" Flavius ask amiably.
"Walther P88. I wasn't sure of your intentions," Adam Pierson replies, just as amiably.
"Isn't that a bit against the rules?"
"Only if I went on to take your head."
"Which of course you'd never do."
"Oh, never. Taking a quickening in front of all these people would really screw up my job prospects." He smirks. "Besides, I don't have my sword." He raises his eyebrows in silent warning as he sees Sandra approaching. "I'm Adam Pierson," he says under his breath.
Adam Pierson gives a snort of laughter.
"Hey! That's a perfectly normal name for a senior citizen hereabouts!" Low; then louder, with a glint of mischief: "We can't all be eternal thirty-year-olds, you know."
"Ah-ha! So that is the solution to the dig's greatest mystery! Thirty, is it?" Sandra, who has heard the last part of the sentence, grins.
Flavius returns her grin. "Oh, Adam's been celebrating his thirtieth birthday for a while now. He's terribly vain."
"Yeah, I'm sure he's wearing a toupee too," Sandra beams.
"No, but I'm dyeing my hair," Adam Pierson admits, coyly.
"Friend of your father's, indeed!" Flavius snickers. The senior students who are leading the day-to-day business of the excavation have called a break, and the two old friends are strolling along the edge of the field while the other students are taking their lunch in the shade of the containers. "So, you're digging out my old villa?"
"Well, it's part of the excavation, yes, but it's not what I'm working on. Seems you had neighbours. Well, predecessors. There's four Linear-Bandkeramik houses right beside your erstwhile domicile."
"Early Neolithic. About 7000 years ago."
Flavius casts an astonished glance at the trenches. "You mean you can still find traces of houses that stood here so long ago? Hey, they're older than you!"
Adam Pierson scratches his head and grins lopsidedly. "We don't find much, really. Stains in the ground and what's left of their refuse. Sherds, charcoal. Nothing that would get us onto the cover of Newsweek or Der Spiegel. It's interesting, though. Quite different from what we used to call archaeology just a century ago."
"Well, if you're looking for treasures, I remember losing a sestertius or two around the house, though I don't think that will get you onto the cover of Der Spiegel," Flavious quips. He stops and looks across the fields, in the direction of his former villa. "You're really into this archaeology stuff, aren't you?"
"As I said, it's interesting. I try to keep out of the eras I've lived through, though. I know too much that I can't explain or prove to participate in any kind of educated discourse on those. But I know about as much about the Stone Ages as the next guy, so I'm quite on the same footing as any other student. Or professor."
"You a student? Or a professor?"
Adam Pierson laughs. "If I were a prof, I wouldn't be digging holes here, believe me."
"So, Adam Pierson is newish?"
"Actually, Adam's close to his expiration date. I've used him for over fifteen years. He's already had, well, let's call it a different career before I decided to try for a Ph.D."
"Why not start a new identity then?"
"I like Adam. I want to make the most of him."
Flavius frowns. "It's just a name. You could do what you're doing now under a different name. And you could keep doing it for years! Why even bother with a Ph.D. you'll hardly be able to use?"
"I told you. I like Adam."
Flavius throws the other man a searching gaze. Then he turns away.
"Loquamor lingua mea, amice. Nemo lingua mea iam loquitur," he says, finally.
Adam Pierson stays silent.
"Sure we can talk Latin," he says, eventually, quietly, "but I suspect it won't help."
The low drone of the highway seems to grow louder as they stand in the stifling heat, Flavius in his too warm coat, the man who calls himself Adam Pierson waiting patiently, staring at his friend's broad back.
The Roman takes a long breath; shrugs, with a short, helpless laugh. "Methos. . . I came here to get in touch with the past. With myself. My old self. There's a woman in a big house in Bad Homburg who thinks she's married to Karl-Heinz Müller. And sometimes I think she's right, and it scares me like nothing on a battlefield ever could."
He turns, and for the first time sees his teacher, not Adam Pierson. He has always been impressed with the ancient Immortal's ability to seem to belong right where he stands. He appears free of all the many anxieties that Flavius cannot seem to shake even after two millennia. He stands relaxed, legs just slightly apart, arms folded, a smear of dirt on his short sleeve next to his right hand. Flavius remembers the expression on his face, too -- part irony, part pity, part -- what? The wisdom of the ages?
And of course, he is silent. Watching him.
Frustration rises in Flavius, threatening to turn into irritation, but he masters himself. "Have you ever felt that?" he asks. "Do you know what I'm talking about?"
Methos smiles, looks aside, looks back at his student.
"You really did try hard to hold on to the original Flavius, didn't you?" he says.
"I'm trying to be myself."
The ancient man meets his student's eyes with amused understanding and regret, and Flavius knows then that the comfort he will find here will be a mixed blessing at best.
"You said Adam Pierson was only a name, Flavius. You're right. But so is Methos, and for that matter, so is Flavius. They're labels put on a box. And the contents of that box change with time. With every person you've been over time you put something in, and take something out."
Flavius frowns. "Karl-Heinz, and every identity before, they were just make-believe -- roles. I always knew where the role ended. I always knew who I was, behind the mask."
"Did you, really? The Roman Empire fell almost two thousand years ago. How long can you hold onto that brave Roman centurion?"
"You seem to be very much yourself. You always did."
Traces of indecipherable emotions pass over the old man's face, cloud shadows chased across an empty field on a stormy day. "I was three thousand years old when we met, Flavius. I had been many things." He pauses; swallows a memory. "You play; then you become. That's how it is for us. Let go of the old Flavius, and give Karl-Heinz a chance. See where he will take you."
"So that's your advice? 'Out with the old, in with the new'? 'Go with the flow'? 'Oh, and by the way, history is bunk'?"
Methos snorts. "Embracing the present doesn't mean forgetting about the past. Though you may get to a point where you will want to. . ." There is a strange laugh here that Flavius does not quite know what to make of. "No matter -- you can't allow yourself to be defined by your past. We live too long for that. Change is inevitable if you want to survive. After enough changes, enough lives, and enough mistakes, maybe you'll begin to figure out a few of the constants. And whatever they will be, they'll probably have little to do with Flavius, the loyal centurion."
"You're telling me I should go and have a millennia-long midlife-crisis," Flavius states, desperately incredulous.
The corner of his teacher's mouth twitches into a half-smile. "You don't have much of a choice."
There is a silence. Scrambling for something, anything, Flavius probes, "So. . . how many 'mistakes' does it take? Care to share some of yours?"
Without warning Methos' features turn hard, although his voice remains calm. "No."
The silence this time is more uncomfortable.
"Whatever," Flavius says. He hesitates, then turns to leave.
Flavius remembers being irked by that address even back in the time when he was still a very young Immortal. He had died a late First Death, and suddenly having to take on the role of a student again, in what he had thought of as his old age, had been hard on him. He turns to find the old man grinning, delighted as a child who has played a well-known trick on an adult, but the grin disappears quickly.
"Don't be afraid," Methos says.
Flavius leaves. He does not pause to take a look at the foundations of his former home.
In the late afternoon, the students are plodding from the trenches to the containers in a long, tired procession. Adam Pierson is next to last, carrying two ten-liter buckets of earth to be analysed later. The rattle of tools in a wheelbarrow announces that Sandra is closing up with him.
"Hey, Adam. What happened to your father's friend? He left pretty suddenly."
"Yeah, uhm, he had an appointment he had forgotten about. Maybe he'll be back for the guided tour some other time."
"I hope so. My man would love to show him around, I'm sure."
Adam Pierson laughs. "Yeah, he's a regular tour guide, isn't he? He's missed his calling!"
"It's something to fall back on if becoming a world-famous archaeologist doesn't work out," she grins. "Do you plan to walk back to the station, or can we give you a ride?"
Adam Pierson considers the growing pain in his muscles and the sultry weather. "I think I'd appreciate a ride."
They have reached the containers. Sandra's boyfriend is standing by the door of the improvised office, talking to one of the other student coordinators. He is still wearing his 'Lawrence of Arabia' hat -- a baseball cap with a towel attached to protect the back of his neck.
"We're giving Adam a ride to the station," Sandra tells him.
"Sure, no prob. I'm afraid you'll have to wait a moment while we're closing up, though," he addresses Adam. "Oh, and if you're really curious about soccer, we're playing on Wednesday."
"'We' as in 'Offenbach Kickers'?"
"No, 'we' as in 'we the Department of Pre- and Early History'. We play in the Grüneburgpark. You'd be very welcome to join us."
Adam Pierson, student, makes a show of thinking about it for a moment. Then he replies, with a grin, "I'm always up for a new experience."
The German sentence said by Flavius means: "This can't be true!?" The Latin sentences mean: "Let's speak my language, friend. Nobody speaks my language anymore." - or at least I hope they do. *g*